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  • Author or Editor: Changying Li x
  • HortTechnology x
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The majority of U.S. northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and southern highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum hybrids) for the fresh market is hand harvested because of the high bruising damage to the fruit caused by current machine harvesters. To reduce bruising, it is important to understand how the harvester’s machine parts interact with the fruit. A miniature instrumented sphere, hereafter referred to as Smart Berry, was developed to mimic a blueberry (Vaccinium species and hybrids) fruit and to quantitatively measure mechanical impacts experienced by a real blueberry fruit during mechanical harvesting. The Smart Berry sensor recorded impacts using three single-axis accelerometers with a maximum sampling frequency of 3 kHz and ±500 g n sensing range. Calibration tests showed that the maximum error of the measurement was 0.53% of the output span. The diameter of the sensor (1 inch) was only half of that for the current smallest instrumented sphere on the market. Used together with a close-up video, the fully calibrated sensors were used to identify and measure mechanical impacts occurring in a commercial rotary blueberry harvester. The data suggested that the catch pan created the largest single mechanical impacts. Thus, reducing the drop height or padding the surface could be effective measures to reduce bruising damage caused by the catch pans. The Smart Berry was also used to compare harvesters with two different detaching mechanisms. The rotary detaching mechanism created significantly fewer and lower-magnitude impacts than the slapper mechanism (P ≤ 0.05). Manual drop tests demonstrated that the impact data recorded by the Smart Berry can be correlated with bruising damage experienced by blueberry fruit. Taken together, the data can be used to improve the design of the current machine harvesters for reduction of bruising damage to blueberry fruit destined for the fresh market, and potentially lead to enhanced highbush blueberry production efficiency in the long run.

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Northern highbush (NH) blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and southern highbush (SH) blueberry (V. corymbosum hybrids) have fruit that vary in firmness. The SH fruit is mostly hand harvested for the fresh market. Hand harvesting is labor-intensive requiring more than 500 hours/acre. Rabbiteye blueberry (V. virgatum) tends to have firmer fruit skin than that of NH blueberry and has been mostly machine harvested for the processing industry. Sparkleberry (V. arboreum) has very firm fruit. With the challenges of labor availability, efforts are under way to produce more marketable fruit using machine harvesting. This could require changing the design of harvesting machine and plant architecture, and the development of cultivars with fruit that will bruise less after impact with hard surfaces of machines. The objectives of this study were to determine the fruit quality of machine-harvested SH blueberry, analyze the effect of drop height and padding the contact surface on fruit quality, investigate the effect of crown restriction on ground loss, and determine the effect of plant size on machine harvestability. The fruit of ‘Farthing’, ‘Scintilla’, ‘Sweetcrisp’, and several selections were either hand harvested or machine harvested and assessed during postharvest storage for bruise damage and softening. Machine harvesting contributed to bruise damage in the fruit and softening in storage. The fruit of firm-textured SH blueberry (‘Farthing’, ‘Sweetcrisp’, and selection FL 05-528) was firmer than that of ‘Scintilla’ after 1 week in cold storage. Fruit drop tests from a height of 20 and 40 inches on a plastic surface showed that ‘Scintilla’ was more susceptible to bruising than that of firm-textured ‘Farthing’ and ‘Sweetcrisp’. When the contact surface was cushioned with a foam sheet, bruise incidence was significantly reduced in all SH blueberry used in the study. Also, the fruit dropped 40 inches developed more bruise damage than those dropped 20 inches. Ground loss during machine harvesting was reduced from 24% to 17% by modifying the rabbiteye blueberry plant architecture. Further modifications to harvesting machines and plant architecture are necessary to improve the quality of machine-harvested SH and rabbiteye blueberry fruit and the overall efficiency of blueberry (Vaccinium species and hybrids) harvesting machines.

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